Congress hears testimony on dual use research

At a Thursday Senate hearing on biological security, government experts and members of Congress discussed the threat of dual use research to homeland security.

The Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hosted an expert panel to outline the dangers that dual use biological research can pose.

"Dual use research is research that ultimately could yield new information critical to the development of technologies needed to improve public health, such as vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics, but also has the potential for malevolent applications if used by people with intent to do harm," Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Dr. Anthony Fauci said. "In the biomedical research community, we remain mindful that much infectious diseases research may inherently have the potential for dual use."

Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) both raised concerns about the proposed publication of research into the H5N1 bird flu virus.

"Research that can lead to cures extending life for millions can also kill many if a rogue pathogen were released either by accident or because it fell into what I will call evil hands," Lieberman said.

The controversial research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, and was conducted at both the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam and the University of Wisconsin. The project involved the laboratory creation of highly infectious airborne strains of the bird flu virus. Because the research might be recreated, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity recommended in December that the controversial research be published only if certain details were withheld.

The NSABB reversed its decision in March, voting unanimously to allow the publication of the University of Wisconsin research, and voted 12-6 in favor of allowing the work from Rotterdam to be published.

Dr. Paul S. Keim, the acting chair of the NSABB, testified before the committee, noting that the advisory board did not take its decision lightly and that the decision to recommend publication came only after a lengthy review process.

"We must be careful that we don't destroy the scientific enterprise as we try to protect against the misuse of some research," Keim said.

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